Obama becomes the first President to set foot in Cuba for NINE DECADES: He makes history with Michelle, Sasha and Malia while Cuban human rights protesters clash with police a few miles away
- President, First Lady, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, arrived in Cuba
- The first family were met by torrential rain that began moments after they landed in Havana on Sunday evening
- Cuba's dictator Raul Castro didn't show up to greet them - he has a meeting with Obama tomorrow
- Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the communist country in nearly 90 years
- U.S. President will also meet with dissidents of authoritarian government that has a history of human rights abuses
- As Air Force One left Andrews Air Force base, protests erupted in Havana over Cuba's human rights record
- First family went on a tour of Old Havana and will go to a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba
- Obama will also give a televised speech from Havana's national theater and meet with entrepreneurs. White House says he will not shy away from using 'bully pulpit'
The Obamas' tour of Old Havana was nearly a washout on Sunday evening as a deluge of rain came down minutes after they landed in Cuba for an historic three-day visit to the communist country.
The first family pressed on, despite the stormy skies, strolling through the Plaza des Armas as they huddled under their umbrellas and they made their way to the Museo de la Ciudad, the museum of Cuba's capital city, and on to Havana Cathedral.
President Obama's family - particularly his daughter Sasha - looked less than pleased as they perched underneath their blue and black umbrellas.
As the Obama's taxied towards their motorcade, the president wrote on Twitter: '¿Que bolá Cuba? (What's up Cuba?). Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.'
Cuban dictator Raul Castro did not greet the Obamas on the tarmac, leaving the country's foreign minister to conduct the greetings and handshakes instead. Castro has a meeting with the U.S. president tomorrow morning, but Obama will not come face-to-face with former leader, Fidel Castro.
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President Barack Obama waved to hundreds of Cubans gathered in Old Havana as he was taken on a tour amid heavy rain
Obama's huge security detail surrounded the president and his family as they walked through Old Havana during the historic visit
Rain on their parade: The Obamas looked less than impressed by the rain as it came down hard on them while they toured Old Havana after landing in Cuba on Sunday evening
Taking shelter: The Obama family did their best to stay dry as they were led around downtown by the city's historian in the first hours of their visit
The tour must go on! The president appeared to be explaining something to his daughter Malia as they were guided around Old Havana on a rainy evening
U.S. President Barack Obama stands near a portrait of Abraham Lincoln rolled out just for his visit as he is guided on a tour of the Museum of the City of Havana
President Barack Obama steps over a puddle as he and his family tours the cobbled streets of Old Havana, despite the rain
Michelle and Malia Obama were also careful to stay on their feet as they made their way through the old town's center
Long legs: Obama made his way through the rain on an evening that saw him meet with embassy staff at a hotel in Havana, as well
President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, children Sasha and Malia and the first lady's mother, Marian Robinson, touched down in Havana at 4:20pm ET on Sunday, with the first drops of rain falling as the Obamas walked down the Air Force One steps.
Obama is the first sitting president in nearly 90 years to visit the island, in a trip the White House says will 'deepen' America's relationship with the authoritarian government following more than half a century of tension.
Obama and his entourage were whisked off the runway to Melia Habana hotel to meet with U.S. embassy staff before their tour of Old Havana, a family excursion that was ill-fated, given the torrential downpour, but left on the schedule nonetheless as the U.S. president made a symbolic display of solidarity with the Cuban people.
Cuban and American flags flew from the president's car as it left the airport in the direction of central Havana.
'This is a historic visit and a historic opportunity,' Obama told embassy staff as he greeted them and reflected on the seven months since the embassy reopened in Havana last July. 'I want you to know, everyone we've accomplished so far, it's all happening because of you. Every day you're bringing the US and Cuba closer together.'
Obama was later cheered as he passed through a square outside Havana Cathedral, with hundreds of people erupting in applause and shouting the president's name as the first family stepped forward.
The Obamas then dined at a privately-owned restaurant in a bustling, working class neighborhood. Jubilant crowds surged toward the president's heavily fortified motorcade as it inched towards the San Cristobal restaurant.
After a short dinner, the Obamas headed to the ambassador's residence, where they are staying during their visit.
The first family will now spend three days on the island, then fly to Argentina for another two before returning to Washington, DC, just before the Easter holiday.
The U.S. president is scheduled to meet with dissidents of the oppressive government, as well as the country's leader, Castro, during his visit. He will also give a televised speech from Havana's national theater, Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso.
Amid the fanfare of Obama's arrival, as many as 50 protesters demonstrating against Cuba's poor human rights record were arrested in Havana.
Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump accused Castro of disrespecting the United States by not meeting Obama at the airport.
'Wow, President Obama just landed in Cuba, a big deal, and Raul Castro wasn't even there to greet him. He greeted Pope and others. No respect,' Trump tweeted.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democrat seeking to replace Obama in the White House, meanwhile praised the president for 'making history by traveling to Cuba and moving relations between our two countries into a new era''
'This is an approach that is long overdue....Fifty years of Cold War is enough. It is time for Cuba and the United States to turn the page and normalize relations,' Sanders said.
Family outing: The first family pressed on, despite the stormy skies, strolling through the Plaza des Armas as they huddled under their umbrellas as they made their way to the Museo de la Ciudad, the museum of the Cuba's capital city
'Hola... Gracias': Cuban media asked Obama, in Spanish, to say a few words to the Cuban people. He told them, 'Hola... Gracias'
Historic: Cubans and tourists strain in the rain to get a glimpse of President Barack Obama as his delegation visits Cathedral Square in Old Havana
Obama's first stop after landing in Cuba was meeting with staff at the recently re-opened embassy. The inclement weather meant the president chatted with workers at a nearby hotel instead of the consulate.
The president said: 'Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship, it took him three days to get here. It only took me three hours.
'Having a US embassy means we're more effectively able to advance our values, our interests and understand more effectively.
'This is a historic visit and a historic opportunity. I know it's been a pretty busy seven months. But I want you to know, everything we've accomplished so far, it's all happening because of you. Every day you're bringing the US and Cuba closer together.'
Speaking to diplomatic staff, he added: 'I'm so glad you brought your families here because I always like taking pictures with kids. Their future is what we all work for so hard and I'm so grateful to all of you for making it happen.'
The U.S. operated out of the embassy during the detente between the U.S. and the Castro regime from 1977 until the summer of 2015, but it was under the authority of the Swiss government, which served as the protecting power.
It officially assumed the role of the United States' mission in Cuba on July 20, 2015, when diplomatic ties were formally restored.
Dozens of people began to gather beside the U.S. embassy in Havana to wait for the arrival of President Obama on Sunday evening
Obama and his wife Michelle approach Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez (left) as they arrive at Havana's international airport for a three-day trip. They are seen taking their first step onto the communist nation's soil
Air Force One touched down in Havana - just as the heavens let down a pouring rain - arriving at 4:20pm ET on Sunday for a visit the White House says will 'deepen' America's relationship with the government following more than half a century of tension
The President, First Lady, Malia and Sasha Obama were all on board Air Force One as it landed in Havana, Cuba, for the first time
Obama's daughters Malia and Sasha beamed as they sheltered under an umbrella at Havana's airport after arriving in Cuba on Sunday
Air Force One broke through the gray crowds as it came into land in Havana, soaring over streets filled with cars dating back decades
Two Cubans watched the arrival of the president and the first lady from their home, where a picture of revolutionary leader Che Guevara (top right) hung from the wall
THE OBAMAS' TOUR OF HAVANA
The president's spokesman on Friday said Obama will not shy away from using his 'bully pulpit' on the trip to address human rights violations in the communist country that the United States was estranged from for more than 50 years.
'For more than 50 years, we tried a strategy of saying, well, why don't we just try to ignore the Cubans and see if they change their mind on their own. Not surprisingly, that strategy didn't really work very well, so we're trying a new approach,' White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday.
Earnest said: 'The President of the United States is going to get on Air Force One, he's going to fly to Havana, Cuba, and he is going to sit down with the leader of Cuba and say, you need to do a better job of protecting the human rights of your people.
'He's going to give a speech to the Cuban population, to the Cuban people, one that will be carried on TV, according to the Cuban government, where the President will advocate for better respect for human rights.
And while he's in town the president will 'visit with people who have previously been victimized by the government, and encourage them to continue to fight for the kinds of universal human rights that we deeply cherish in this country'.
'That is effective advocacy for American values,' Earnest added. 'That is effective advocacy for the kinds of principles that we cherish in this country and in our government. And it is, by the way, an approach that is strongly supported by the vast majority of the Cuban people.'
The first day of the trip saw the entire first family, including Michelle Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, take a tour of Old Havana.
As part of their 'cultural outreach' they stopped by Havana Cathedral to see Cardinal Jaime Ortega. The Cuban cardinal played a crucial role in the thawing of relations between the United States and his home country.
The first family's visit to his church was to 'mark the important role of the Catholic Church in the lives of the Cuban people', the White House said this week on a planning call, 'and in the increasing relations' between the two countries.
On Monday morning, the president will honor Cuban revolutionary José Marti, a hero in the Cuban revolt against Spain, by laying a wreath at his memorial, a 358ft tower, in Havana's Plaza de la Revolución, before his meeting with Raul Castro.
The president will be 'very candid about areas of disagreement' at their meeting, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said, 'including the human rights practices that have concerned us in Cuba and our support for universal values in Cuba'.
Both presidents are expected to deliver statements after the meeting and the White House indicated on Friday that Obama would likely take questions from the press, although a formal news conference has not been scheduled.
Obama will not meet with ex-Cuban dictator Fidel Castro while he is in town. The 1950s era Cuban revolutionary turned over power to his brother in 2006 temporarily for health reasons and made the transition permanent in 2008.
The 88-year-old has rarely been seen in public since handing over power, prompting rumors that he is in failing health. His last observed outing was in February.
'Neither we nor the Cubans have pursued such a meeting,' Rhodes said Wednesday.
Mrs Obama will meanwhile on Monday meet with female Cuban students, some of whom have studied in the U.S., as part of her Let Girls Learn initiative, the White House said.
The president and first lady will also participate in a State dinner hosted by the Cuban government at the Palace of the Revolution on Monday.
The following morning President Obama will give a speech, in which he will 'review the complicated history' between the countries, the White House says, 'but also to look forward to the future, and to lay out his vision for how the United States and Cuban can work together, to how the Cuban people can continue to pursue a better life.'
Afterward he will meet with political dissidents before attending an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuban National Team.
'Americans and Cubans share a love of baseball, and this is yet another powerful reminder of the kinship between our peoples, as well as the progress we can achieve when we leverage those natural ties,' the White House's chief spokesman, Earnest, said Friday.
Obama tweeted 'What's up Cuba?' as he touched down, becoming the first sitting President in 90 years to visit Cuba
The weather is said to have taken a turn for the worse just moments before the President landed
Obama points to the crowd as he heads to his limousine in the rain. He prepared to meet with U.S. embassy staff and go on a tour of Old Havana after getting off the plane
Obama waves after his arrival on Jose Marti Airport in Havana before being driven into the city for a tour of its Old Town district
Cuban and American flags were flown from the president's car as it left the airport in the direction of Havana's Old Town, where he will be given a tour this evening
Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump accused Castro of disrespecting the United States by not meeting Obama at the airport
President Barack Obama waves as he and his wife Michelle walk into a room with the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis (left), soon after the Obamas arrived in Cuba
President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle talk with the staff of the U.S. embassy at a Havana hotel soon after their arrival
Obama's meeting with opponents of the Cuban government has been especially kept under wraps going into the trip.
Earnest was unable to say today who the president will meet with specifically while he is there while promising Press a list at a later time and access when it happens.
Earnest said today that he had not seen the list but provided assurances that it had not been dictated by the Cuban government.
'The list of people invited to meet with the president in Cuba is non-negotiable,' he told reporters. 'I would not be surprised if there might be people on that list that the Cuban government would prefer that we not meet with...and I don't know whether or not they've raised those concerns or not.
'But I can tell you that the President is going to move forward and host meetings, and have a conversation about human rights with the people that he chooses to meet with,' Earnest said,
As observers have noted, it would be difficult for the president to meet with imprisoned dissidents without working with the Cuban government, though.
Not having reviewed the list, Earnest said he was unable to vouch for the status of the participants, 'but we certainly are expecting the President to have the opportunity to meet with everybody who is invited and chooses to come.'
The Cuban Observatory on Human Rights last month said the number of dissident arrests had went up - not down - since the U.S. and Cuba announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they would resume high-level diplomatic relations.
In January alone, 1,474 people were 'arbitrarily' detained, the human rights organization told Bloomberg Politics.
This week Cuba released seven dissidents and allowed them one trip abroad on the condition that when they return they will serve the remainder of their sentences out of prison and be banned from additional foreign travel.
'It appears to be some kind of gift they want to present to Obama, but in reality it is nothing concrete because when we come back we will return to legal limbo,' Martha Beatriz Roque, one of the prisoners, said.
President Barack Obama (left) with first lady Michelle Obama, daughter Malia and Sasha and first lady's mother Marian Robinson, board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland for their trip to Cuba
The First Family head to the plane for the first leg of their historic three-day trip as part of efforts to normalize relations with the communist island nation
The president waves to waiting crowds as he boards Air Force One with wife Michelle. It is the first visit to the island by a sitting U.s. president in more than 90 years
Michelle also waves as they depart for Cuba. The U.S. president will meet with Cuban dictator Raul Castro during his visit
Sasha (left) and Malia Obama walk towards Air Force One upon the arrival to Andrews Air Force Base, before their departure
Obama buttons up his suit jacket as he steps out of his motorcade and onto the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base
First lady Michelle Obama steps off the limousine upon their arrival to Andrews Air Force Base, before their departure
Malia Obama (center) walks behind her sister Sasha (left) as they prepare to board the plane to Cuba on Sunday afternoon
The first family walk up the red-carpeted stairs on the way up to the plane at Andrews Air Force base on Sunday afternoon
Responding to criticisms of Obama's trip on Friday, his spokesman said: 'I would acknowledge that there are places where we haven't seen nearly as much improvement as we would like, but there have been some places where we have started to see improvement in Cuba, and we certainly are going to go and press on those changes.'
And he said of Obama's meeting with the dissidents, 'I think the symbolism of the president sitting down with them in their home country and showing support for their cause will be a really powerful thing I think both in real terms but symbolically as well.'
Obama is the only U.S. president aside from Calvin Coolidge to visit Cuba while in office. He and Castro had a formal meeting last April at the Summit of the Americas Conference but that was in Panama.
The visit to Cuba by Obama follows an agreement between the countries more than a year ago to begin normalizing relations, and 'it signals a new beginning' between the two countries, acting U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis told reporters Wednesday.
The Cuban government says that cannot happen until a U.S. embargo banning trade and tourism is lifted on the country and the foreign government returns Guantanamo Bay. U.S. officials have steadfastly said it cannot have the land occupied by naval base and prison back.
A member of the Ladies in White Human Rights organization is arrested during a march in Havana. Dissidents called on the eve of the visit for US President Barack Obama to promote 'radical change,' notably a 'stop to repression and use of physical violence against all political and human rights activists'
Member of the Ladies in White Human Rights organization demonstrate ahead of the President's visit
Cuban children listen to a group of Afro-Cuban musicians performing in an alleyway in downtown Havana, before the arrival of President Barack Obama. In his historic visit to Cuba, Obama is relegating decades of American acrimony with the communist country further into the past and cementing a new relationship between the Cold War-era foes
Several hundred people protest against US President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida
Members of the Ladies in White Human Rights organization are arrested during the heated March
Accompanying Obama on the trip are Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Small Business Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet.
A delegations of more than 30 lawmakers - mostly Democrats but some Republicans - will join them. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will be on the trip, a Democratic aide confirmed. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will not.
House Republicans making the 90-mile trip south of the U.S. are Minnesota's Tom Emmer, South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Wisconsin's Reid Ribble.
Speaker Paul Ryan chided Obama this week for making the trip in spite of the Castro regime's egregious record of human rights abuses.
'To this day, it is a regime that provides safe harbor to terrorists and fugitives. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that the president will bring up the need for reform during his visit,' Ryan charged.
Rather, he will announce 'new commercial deals between U.S. companies and the Cuban regime—deals that will legitimize and strengthen the communist government,' the leading Republican congressman said.
Ryan reiterated Republican opposition to lifting the 1959 trade embargo on Cuba, and said 'despite the president's attempts to undermine' it with his executive actions, 'he is ultimately bound by it. It is the law of the land.'
HISTORY OF U.S. CUBA RELATIONS
Tuesday the president will attend a round table with Cuban-American business leaders, U.S. government officials and Cuban entrepreneurs.that the White House says will be focus on 'opportunity for the Cuban people.'
'This is a sector of the Cuban economy and society that holds enormous promise in improving the livelihoods of the Cuban people,' Rhodes told reporters Wednesday.
WHO IS RAUL CASTRO?
'And more broadly, the commercial opening between our countries similarly has the potential to be a truly mutual interest in terms of providing opportunities - not just for U.S. businesses, but opportunities that again help empower and improve the lives of Cubans.'
Ahead of Obama's visit the United States Treasury Department eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, ending a requirement that Americans visiting for educational purposes go in groups.
Tourist travel will still be illegal - only Congress can lift that ban - but the government will now use the 'honor code' to regulate approved travel, making it much easier for Americans to travel to the country for any purpose.
The new rules will also allow Cubans to open accounts at U.S. banks and financial institutions to process American money coming out of Cuba.
It will further rescind a 10 percent charge on converting U.S. dollars to Cuban convertible pesos and allow mail, cargo and transportation companies to have direct presences in the communist country.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce lambasted the Obama administration last week for undercutting the congressionally-mandated trade embargo with its new rules.
'Under existing law, the president, after consultation with Congress, is only authorized to suspend the economic embargo of Cuba if there is a transitional government in place that allows for all political activity, frees political prisoners, makes a commitment to free and fair elections, and does not include Raul Castro,' Royce said.
He added, 'Obviously these conditions have not been met. Instead of ignoring the law to hand more one-sided concessions to an oppressive regime, President Obama should be working with Congress to stand with the Cuban people who long for freedom.'
The Republican lawmaker said the administration's actions 'will further prop up a communist regime in Cuba that has a long record of brutal human rights abuses.'
And 'while the Castros and their agents are given access to the U.S. financial system, the suffering Cuban people will still get paid in funny money – if at all,' he said. 'Workers at foreign-owned resorts receive only a fraction of their salary, sometimes as little as five percent. The government pockets the rest.'
The White House acknowledged in its preview of the trip that it would not 'overtly or implicitly' suggest regime change. It is not seeking to 'essentially overturn the government in Cuba' or 'dictate the political direction of Cuba.'
Obama 'will make very clear that that's up to the Cuban people. Our policy is focused on helping the Cuban people achieve a better future.'
Republican Congressman Tom Emmer, a sponsor of House legislation to lift the embargo, said in a statement announcing his participation in the president's Cuba trip that 'while there is certainly further work that needs to be done to address human rights issues it is not a matter of if the embargo is lifted, but a matter of when and this bipartisan trip is certainly a step in the right direction.'
'Expanding our markets, strengthening our national security, and improving relationships with our next door neighbor should be a nonpartisan issue,' the Minnesota congressman said.
Obama's spokesman argued on Friday that by removing impediment to the relationship with Cuba and other countries in the Western Hemisphere that do trade with the country, 'we've actually shined a bright light on the human rights situation in Cuba that does, in some ways, actually put more pressure on them to implement the kinds of long-overdue political and economic reforms there.'
Cuban nationals may now be hired at U.S. businesses, as well.
This rule change could have an immediate effect on hiring within Major League Baseball teams, though it is still up to the Cuban government to approve a direct hire process that would allow natives of the country to join U.S. team without defecting.
In February the U.S. and Cuba reached an agreement to allow commercial travel between the U.S. and the island nation. Airlines were invited to submit bids and final decisions will be made before the end of this year.
Obama is the only U.S. president aside from Calvin Coolidge to visit Cuba while in office. Coolidge is seen here in January of 1928 making his way through Havana in a town car
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